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Sunday, June 7, 2020

Not A Virtual Ride

Give me your heart, make it real, or else forget about it.
Smooth, by Itaal Shur & Rob Thomas, performed by Santana (1999).

My 2020 Gold Rush Gravel Grinder is in the books. The real route. On real gravel. Through real mud. Over real rocks. Against real wind. In real heat. With real sunburn. And, in the end, real tired.
No virtual ride here. 

Hard Forest Service gravel abounds at the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder in the Black Hills of South Dakota. 

Like events of all kinds all over, the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder will not occur in 2020, due to uncertainties with governmental licenses and permits. Gone is the pre-race gathering, the mass start, the check point enthusiasm, and the post-race festivities at a city park. There will be no Gold Rush block party this year.

Determined to make the most from a bad hand, Race Co-Directors Kristi and Perry Jewett create an alternative event. One can participate in a "virtual" Gold Rush by riding one of the four race distances (45, 70, 110 and 210 miles) on any route, anywhere, between June 1-15. Kristi and Perry will post "results," ship out event schwag, and even award door prizes and other awards.

Kristi and Perry are doing what they can do, making the most of it for everyone. And I understand others choosing not to gather in large groups or to travel to the Black Hills for a bike race. But I live here. I ride many miles solo. I've looked forward to this all year.

So, I enter the "virtual" Gold Rush Gravel Grinder to ride the actual race course. Solo. Single Speed. Self-supported. Self-navigated.

The event is "virtual," but my ride is real.

The start of my "virtual" Gold Rush Gravel Grinder from an empty Spearfish City Park.

With a late start to clear the vestiges of last night's hail storm, I arrive at Spearfish City Park full of anticipation. The "virtual" weather as forecast and the real weather outside actually match with relatively clear skies, no wind and 60 degrees. The day promises to be very good.

It's oddly quiet and a bit eerie to stand at a Gold Rush start line alone. Memories flood my mind of many starts here, with many friends, both old and new. I see their excited faces and hear their friendly chatter. Abruptly, a crowing rooster breaks the clutter and a familiar voice shouts "PEDAL POWER!" I look around. The park is empty. The streets are empty. So, I quickly reply, "Pedal Power," take off and don't look back. 

From Spearfish heading west into Wyoming, the gravel roads still hold water from last night.

As the sun burns off the last of the cloud cover, I roll through the early prairie miles below big, blue skies. Before long, I turn onto Sand Creek Road for a serene 22 mile climb along a quiet creek. This pretty, protected stretch of gentle uphill offers a great opportunity to settle into a sustainable rhythm and just enjoy the ride. My mind drifts.

What's that? A cyclist! Flying down Sand Creek Road toward me! It's Angie Kent from Spearfish, out riding her own "virtual" Gold Rush event. What a nice surprise. We chat for a few minutes before returning to our individual journeys. That brief encounter lifts my spirits for miles.

Spearfish cyclist Angie Kent on her own "virtual" Gold Rush Gravel Grinder.
Great to see you, Angie, and congrats on your successful ride!

Emerging from Sand Creek Road at mile 36, I stop at would have been a Check Point/Aid Station brimming with encouraging volunteers and baked treats. Although now there's nothing but a remote intersection, I take a break, stretch, and eat a little. I'm right on track for me, a little over 3 hours into the ride and starting to warm up.

Looking ahead, Moskee Road looms large, with some significantly steeper rollers and then rougher road along the ponds. After a couple of hours of steady climbing along Sand Creek, I always enjoy this stretch of short, hard uphill pulls and screaming descents.

OK. Short stops are great, but long stops will break. Time to roll.

Spinning up Sand Creek Road on the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder.

By the time I turn southeast onto Grand Canyon Road, both the sun and wind are fully awake. My cycle computer reads 94 degrees and a stiff, steady headwind greets me for the final 20+ mile climb to the next Check Point at O'Neil Pass. There's not much to do now, but keep pedaling up the hill, in the heat and into the wind. Here lies the heart of the ride.

About half-way up that final climb to O'Neil Pass, at about 60 miles into the course, Grand Canyon Road turns decidedly upward. Not only steeper, the road also straightens out to flaunt its might. It simply looks endlessly up. Gut check time.

Keep at it. Keep pedaling. Walk if you must. Keep moving. There is a summit. You will make it.

Nearing the 70 mile Check Point at O'Neil Pass, after a whole lot of uphill, upwind, hot gravel.

Eventually, I reach Trails Head Lodge at the top of O'Neil Pass. Rather than check-in, re-load, and dash, I plop down for a cheese burger, french fries and a bottomless Coke. No, that's not premium racing fuel. But I'm not racing anyone, anyhow. Today, I'm out riding my bike.

After an exceptionally long break, I ease onto the roads for the 40 mile descent home, starting with 9 downhill miles on Rifle Pit Road. But even that doesn't come easy. This rocky, rutted, rough, often barely-a-road is no time to relax. I bounce all over, checking speed to avoid breaking bike or body. At least this year it's mostly dry.

Of course, there are a few uphills along the way down to Spearfish, particularly that nasty pitch up to the last Check Point at the Cement Ridge Lookout. But now, the heavy lifting is done. After a spell, it's a spun-out coast down Roughlock Falls Road and then Spearfish Canyon.

Cooked by the sun, battered by the wind, and worn down by the hills, I am done for the day. My 2020 Gold Rush Gravel Grinder "virtual" event is complete after riding a very real 110 miles in just over 10 hours.

The most bellicose, unruly gang of wildlife I've seen since the virus.

Give me your heart, make it real, or else forget about it.
Smooth, performed by Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana (1999).


  1. Thanks for sharing your virtual and real experiences. As always it was done in Style, Solo and Single Speed. Glad to hear you had a cheeseburger and coke at Trailshead. Congrats on another Gold Rush Finish!

  2. Awesome right up!! Beautiful pics!! Just went my bucket list.